Promising Debut Ends Suddenly for ...
Promising Debut Ends Suddenly for #2 CITGO Racing Team in Rolex 24 at Daytona
Accident Mars 2005 Grand American Rolex Series Season-Opener
Daytona Beach, FL (February 6, 2005) - What looked to be a very promising Rolex 24 At Daytona for the #2 CITGO Racing Team ended suddenly on lap 528 of the 710 lap event. The team of Milka Duno, Dan Wheldon, and Dario and Marino Franchitti raced their #2 CITGO Pontiac Crawford at the front of the sixty-two car field for most of the event until an unfortunate accident brought a premature ending to their first race of the 2005 season.
In their first ever start in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Wheldon and the Franchitti brothers teamed with Rolex Series veteran Duno to challenge the top sports car racers in the world. Just after the eighteen hour mark of the event, Duno was nearing the end of her stint in the Pontiac Crawford when contact initiated by a Porsche GT car in NASCAR turn three sent the #2 CITGO car spinning into the wall. The severely damaged car was towed to the garage where an inspection by the crew of the damage resulted in their retirement from the event. It marked a disappointing end to a very competitive beginning to the 2005 Grand American Rolex Series for the #2 CITGO Team.
"Just past the chicane I started to pass the GT car and had almost cleared it when it drifted up and clipped me on the left rear and spun me around," said Milka. "At that place on the track you're really going very fast and that, combined with the high banking, made it very difficult to try and control the car after being hit. I was in fourth place overall at the time and had reduced the lead of the car in third to only about five seconds and was scheduled to pit and get out of the car in three laps. It's such a disappointment not only for me, but my co-drivers, the team and CITGO. It was such an incredible experience driving with Dario, Marino and Dan. The #2 CITGO Pontiac Crawford was running very well - had it not been for the unfortunate contact by the GT car I really think we had a good chance for a top-five - maybe even a podium. I would really like to compliment the crew. They worked so hard preparing the car for the test sessions and worked even harder while here at Daytona. They did a truly amazing job!"
Even though the race ended suddenly for the star-studded team, the Howard-Boss Motorsports Team showed that they had the right combination of car and drivers to race up front. In fact, Dario Franchitti led the event three times for a total of twenty-six laps. Certainly an impressive showing in his first Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"This was really a wonderful experience for me," Dario commented during the event. "It's the first time that I've teamed with my brother Marino, and with Milka and my Indy Racing League teammate Dan (Wheldon), we had a strong team. The CITGO Team really prepared a great car, but driving through traffic was a real problem at times. This finish in no way reflects how well this team performed."
For Dario's younger brother Marino, the race was truly special. "I really thought that we had an excellent opportunity for a strong finish," he stated. "Everyone did a great job on the team, and I believe we surprised some people with our performance. To be this competitive in this strong field of drivers is a compliment to everyone involved."
The opportunity to drive in my first Rolex 24 with this team and group of drivers was a real treat," Wheldon added. "The CITGO Pontiac Crawford was really strong, and we were able to keep the car in contention throughout the race. It's unfortunate that our raced ended the way it did, but I'm really thankful to everyone who made this possible."
The final result will show the #2 CITGO Pontiac Crawford Team finishing 33rd in the 62-car field, but the sports car fans witnessed a tremendous performance from a quartet of very talented drivers. At least for eighteen hours.
The next race on the 2005 Rolex Series schedule will be the Grand Prix of Miami at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 5th. The race will hold special meaning for Duno and the #2 CITGO Team. Last year, Andy Wallace and Duno teamed to give the CITGO Racing Team and Howard-Boss Motorsports their first career Rolex Series win in the Grand Prix of Miami. Plus, Wallace and Duno made a clean sweep of the Rolex Series races at Homestead in 2004 with their victory in the Miami 250 in September.